Movie Reviews

Movie Reviews

by Tim Van Schmidt

***** Excellent
**** Good
*** Average
** Poor
* Not Recommended

The Devil’s Double ****

Chosen to act as a stand-in double for Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday, an Iraqi man’s life becomes a nightmare. The movie becomes a powerhouse display of acting by Dominic Cooper, who plays both Uday Hussein and Latif Yahia, the man forced to become the mad man’s “brother.”

Directed by Lee Tamahori…2011…109 min…featuring Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi.

Event Horizon ***

There’s action in space, mystery and evil all rolled up in this sci-fi thriller. A space ship presumed missing reappears after visiting a different dimension, testing- and killing- the members of a rescue operation.

Directed by Paul Anderson…1997…96 min…featuring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T Jones, Sean Pertwee.

Hellraiser ***

An ornate carved box opens a portal to a dimension of hellish torture, administered by some oddball do-badders. One of their prisoners escapes, convincing his former lover to kill others so that his skinless body can heal. A young woman gets mixed up in the middle of it all, but not in time to save her father’s life. It ends up being a lot about the special effects, which keep the movie sopping with blood.

Directed by Clive Barker…1987…94 min…featuring Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman, Doug Bradley.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II ***

It’s creepy, mixing a psychiatric unit in with the skinless shenanigans started by the first movie. It swings from silly and almost childish- despite the blood, gore and twisted imagery- to powerfully surreal. Nightmarish, for sure.

Directed by Tony Randel…1988…97 min…featuring Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence, Imogen Boorman, Kenneth Cranham, Claire Higgins, Sean Chapman.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth **

More childish antics with occasional sparks of a dark creativity- like the video-camera monster. Pinhead and company are stuck in an obelisk that an arrogant nightclub owner mistakes for art. As the club owner brings the demons more blood, the less constrained they are- until a pretty TV reporter closes the lid on the box.

Directed by Anthony Hickox…1992…93 min…featuring Terry Farrell, Doug Bradley, Kevin Bernhardt, Doug Bradley

Hellraiser: Bloodline (IV) ***

Generations of “toymakers” battle Pinhead and his minions in this epic-style tale, giving background and propelling the action way into the future. A female demon takes the spotlight here, but Pinhead is given more room to arrogantly state evil’s case and there’s, relatively, less gore.

Directed by Kevin Yagher…1996…85 min…featuring Bruce Ramsay, Valentina Vargas, Doug Bradley.

Hellraiser: Inferno (V) ***

This has the feel of a reboot for the Hellraiser series- and with good results. The amped up mythology of the previous installments is replaced with more story, playing like a pretty good episode of “The Twilight Zone”- with some blood and gore, plenty of surreal moments and a sense of justice for evildoers. A really bad cop gets hounded by Pinhead’s hellions.

Directed by Scott Derrickson…2000…99 min…featuring Craig Sheffer, Nicholas Turturro, James Remar, Doug Bradley.

Hellraiser: Hellseeker (VI) ***

This is the previous movie warmed over- a guy with bad intent, bad headaches and a bad memory gets pulled into a bloodletting thanks to the magic box. Pinhead hardly moves in this one, it’s so easy for him to torture bad folk- but he’s still up for some wheeling and dealing with an old nemesis.

Directed by Rick Bota…2002…89 min…featuring Dean Winters, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley.

Hellraiser: Deader (VII) ***

The series gets another boost by returning to a female lead. A young newspaper reporter who likes getting out on the edge gets snarled in demonic action while investigating a group in Romania who kill people, then raise them from the dead. The group displeases Pinhead and friends- who want a monopoly on such activity- and everybody pays for it. Generally stylish and suspenseful, saving the gore for the end.

Directed by Rick Bota…2005…88 min…featuring Kari Wuhrer, Paul Rhys, Simon Kunz, Doug Bradley.

Hellraiser: Hellworld (VIII) **

This waters the Hellraiser series down to a self-referring parody made for teenagers in an attempt to make the franchise relevant to gamers. Hellworld is a game that has driven one kid to a grisly death, but that doesn’t stop his buddies from continuing to indulge- until an all-too realistic Hellraiser party gets out of control. Along the lines of “Scream.”

Directed by Rick Bota…2005…91 min…featuring Lance Henriksen, Katheryn Winnick, Christopher Jacot, Doug Bradley, Henry Cavill.

Hellraiser: Revelations (IX) ***

Although relatively short, this packs in plenty of action- and a pretty good plot twist. Two friends leave their cush suburban homes behind only to find terror in Mexico thanks to the carved box given to them in a bar. Then the young dudes bring the terror home to their families. There’s a feel here of returning to some of the bloody, skinless elements of the first movie. Added in is the tension of a nightmarish, brutal home invasion that leaves the door open for further installments. However, the new Pinhead seems more sleazy than imperious. The best of the Hellraiser series: V, VII, IX.

Directed by Victor Garcia…2011…75 min…featuring Tracey Fairaway, Fred Tatasciore, Steven Brand, Stephan Smith Collins (as Pinhead.)

Apollo 18 ***

A secret mission to the moon produces unexpected results. The entire production is shot with hand-held cameras, the footage supposedly filmed live by the astronauts as the events are happening. The image interruptions and distortions throughout the production help underscore the hap-hazard sequences. But what ends up making me squirm the most isn’t the action, but the intensely cramped quarters in the LEM and orbiting capsule, not to mention the constricting space suit and helmet- very claustrophobic.

Apollo 18…Directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego…2011…86 min…featuring Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins.

The Avengers ***

Big budget, big special effects, big action- it’s hard to resist. But there’s a lot of information and back story riding behind the plot and the onslaught of characters and ideas may be too much for those uninitiated to the comic book heroes assembled here. You can also get the sense that the big stars gathered here to play the heroes are kind of snickering about the whole thing, especially that annoying guy playing Iron Man. But perhaps that is part of the magic here. You can’t take it seriously or you’ll miss the fun.

Directed by Joss Whedon…2012…143 min…featuring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Helmsworth, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Samuel L Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Captain America: The First Avenger” ***

Old fashioned action flavor with shiny contemporary accents. The story of how a scrawny 4-F reject becomes the super soldier Captain America supposedly happens during World War II, but the bad guys here are sporting space-age weapons.

Directed by Joe Johnston…2011…124 min…featuring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Samuel L. Jackson, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci.

The Core ***

It’s pretty silly and you know a lot of the characters will die, but this flight of the imagination still provides some thrills. Mostly it’s that unnerving sense of doom that hangs over the whole project- taking a ship through the Earth’s crust and mantle to detonate nuclear bombs that might kick start a suddenly inactive core. With only an intense laser disintegrator to clear the way ahead of them as they hurl through thousands of miles of rock at high speed, the characters mostly sit back in their seats and leave a lot to faith- until something goes wrong.

Directed by Jon Amiel…2003…135 min…featuring Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Bruce Greenwood.

Pi ****

This movie is gratingly heroic in its attempt to break the mold of linear storytelling. Cut up scenes, half in, half out of reality, aided by challenging electric music, mirrors the mental instability of a mathematician being driven crazy by his self-stated genius. His obsession with numbers leads to potential breakthroughs in both financial deals and religious theory and he gets hounded by those who want his results.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky…1998…84 min…featuring Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman.

Star Trek: Insurrection **

A small colony of people become pawns of manipulation when it is discovered their planet keeps their residents young. The space sequences, despite their projected scale, have an unmistakably manufactured look to them and the script and acting too is pretty much manufactured. Still, the old thrill of bad guys being outsmarted and vanquished gives some pleasure here.

Directed by Jonathan Frakes…1998…103 min…featuring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, F. Murray Abraham, Anthony Zerbe.

Solar Crisis ***

All predictions indicate that a solar flare is going to incinerate the earth- that is unless a ship loaded with an anti-matter bomb doesn’t dive straight into the heart of the sun and cause a different reaction. Lots of things go wrong on the mission and it ends up being a genetically enhanced test tube baby who drives the point home. The mission has further complications than just mere physics- a big corporation has an interest in the mission’s outcome.

Directed by Richard C Sarafian…1990…112 min…featuring Tim Matheson, Charlton Heston, Peter Boyle, Annabel Schofield, Jack Palance, Sandy McPeak, Tetsuya Bessho, Corin Nemec.

Twilight ***

A down-on-his-luck PI living with a pair of faded Hollywood stars gets snarled in a cold case murder. There are no special effects here- just simmering crime action and layers of manipulation and lies.

Directed by Robert Benton…1998…94 min…featuring Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, Reese Witherspoon, Stockard Channing, James Garner, Giancarlo Esposito, Liev Schreiber, Margo Martindale, John Spencer.

100 Degrees Below Zero **

A volcanic eruption in Iceland begins a chain reaction of events that sends the Earth into a new Ice Age. The poor script and wooden acting make it certain things have a real hard time thawing out.

Directed by RD Braunstein…2013…89 min…featuring Jeff Fahey, Sara Malakul Lane, Marc McKevitt Ewins, John Rhys-Davies.

The Void **

Scientists greedy for power threaten the Earth with a super collider- and faulty calculations. It seems their efforts will actually create a black hole which will consume the planet, unless a couple of heroes succeed in stopping the process. However, the biggest black hole here is the weak production values, limp action and insincere performances.

Directed by Gilbert M Shilton…2001…93 min…featuring Adrian Paul, Amanda Tapping, Andrew McIlroy, Malcolm McDowell.

King of Devil’s Island ***

A stark Norwegian island serves as a facility for processing mal-adjusted boys. Abuse lights a fire among the residents, who stubbornly and violently rebel against authorities.

Directed by Marius Holst…2010…116 min…featuring Benjamin Helstad, Trond Nilssen, Stellan Skarsgård.

Lunopolis *

Dubious filmmakers investigate leads that aliens living on the moon are controlling things on Earth. What they aren’t controlling is the editing on this movie, which includes some un-compelling time-wasting.

Directed by Matthew Avant…2009…98 min…featuring Dave Potter, Jed Himel, Matthew Avant.

Miller’s Crossing ***

Tough guys run the show in this gangster work-out. The talk is peppered with slang and it gets violent, but as gangster movies go, this one is pretty tame. It’s a lot about double crosses, cheating and lying and the one left standing in the end isn’t always the smartest, but the luckiest.

Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen…1990…115 min…featuring Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro, Marcia Gay Harden, Jon Polito, Steve Buscemi.

Prometheus ****

Stylish sci-fi thriller that acts as a retelling of the “Alien” story- at least there are some very, very similar details. But also some added elements, advanced special effects plus some pretty good acting that all work together to help give this an ambiance all its own. It’s a gorgeous and interesting production to look at, imaginative and scary.

Directed by Ridley Scott…2012…124 min…featuring Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce.

Europa Report ***

The dream of a lifetime- to explore another world- is undertaken with dire results. In this case, the target is a moon of Jupiter, where water is expected to be found- and life. The movie brings up more questions than supplies answers, but like “Apollo 18,” this one hammers home the claustrophobic nature of long term capsule living. Also like “Apollo 18,” the film is made up of what is supposedly footage shot by the crew, served up in multiple panes on the screen. This is pretty much hard science, leaving the nature of alien goings-on mysterious, and the movie is stronger for it.

Directed by Sebastian Cordero…2013…90 min…featuring Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Christian Camargo, Daniel Wu.

Spiders ***

Some Russian space junk falls to Earth and crashes into the New York City subway system. There, tag along aliens in the form of big, nasty spiders, find a hospitable environment to grow.

Directed by Tibor Takacs…2013…89 min…featuring William Hope, Shelly Varod, Christa Campbell, Patrick Muldoon.

Oblivion ***

A technician servicing essential equipment for human colonies in space makes some mind-bending discoveries about what happened on Earth, abandoned after a ravaging war with invading robots.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski…2013…124 min…featuring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo.

Outerworld (Beyond the Rising Moon) ***

A genetically designed woman named Pentan rebels against her corporate “owners” and thwarts their efforts to gain control of valuable alien technology. The copy I streamed was of very poor quality, or this may have been the quality of the production to begin with, however, I found Pentan a compelling character and the story inventive.

Directed by Philip J Cook…1987…78 min…featuring Tracy Davis, Hans Bachmann, Michael Mack, Rick Foucheux, Ron Ikejiri.

Leviathan ***

A deep sea mining crew stirs up terror at the end of a long shift. These aren’t particularly likeable characters, so you’re not particularly sad to see some of them get killed, but the claustrophobic feeling of the group being trapped in a tiny, pressurized space with a nasty, rapidly evolving creature helps keep the tension high. The monster isn’t the only problem, though, since there is also some corporate skullduggery thrown into the mix.

Directed by George P Cosmatos…1989…98 min…featuring Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Lisa Eilbacher, Hector Elizondo, Meg Foster.

Vanilla Sky ****

“Vanilla Sky” progresses artfully by peeling back multiple layers of storyline and meaning to reveal a much different movie in the end than the beginning.

At the start, a handsome young publisher plays games with the wrong heart and ends up being badly disfigured in an accident. He becomes disfigured inside and out, until he finds some escape behind a specially designed prosthetic face- a mask- that allows him to function with some confidence. Unfortunately, he is also in prison for murder and a police psychologist is tasked with finding out what is behind the mask.

All that said, the movie goes way beyond those plot elements, tickling the brain at a point in a production where normally everything is put on autopilot towards an inevitable conclusion. Not here. “Vanilla Sky” challenges the viewer with an alternative view of reality after spending a lot of its time elsewhere.

I’ll say that actor Tom Cruise had me gritting my teeth over his everybody-loves-the-pretty-boy character with a mixture of annoyance at his arrogance and maybe a little jealousy. But Cruise takes on three times the acting chores by appearing in three different distinct forms in the production- impressive stuff in a stylish brain-teaser.

Directed by Cameron Crowe…2001…136 min…featuring Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Tilda Swinton.

I Am Omega **

A man who has escaped an infection that turns humans into voracious, flesh-eating monsters deals with mental instability while having to constantly fight to survive. Added to this, it turns out he’s not the only uninfected person after all, which doesn’t stop some of those individuals from being monsters too.

There are direct references to “The Last Man on Earth”/”Omega Man” stories. For example in “The Omega Man,” Charlton Heston blocks ringing telephones out of his mind by yelling “There are no telephones.” Here, it’s a madly swirling radio.
Directed by Griff Furst…2007…91 min…featuring Mark Dacascos, Geoff Meed, Jennifer Lee Wiggins.

24 Redemption ***

Tough US Agent gone renegade, Jack Bauer, gets drawn into an international crisis in Africa- trying to save a bunch of boys from being inducted into a brutal war lord’s army.

Directed by Jon Cassar…2008…102 min…featuring Kiefer Sutherland, Cherry Jones, Bob Gunton, Colm Feore, Powers Boothe, Robert Carlyle, Jon Voight, Peter MacNicol, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Siyabulela Ramba.

Winter’s Bone ****

A return to this harrowing story of tough backwoods survival underscored the nearly inscrutable code of conduct among crime families in the hills.

The Descendents ****

The trustee for a family holding a big swathe of prime real estate in Hawaii deals with pressure to sell the land while his wife lies dying in the hospital after a boating accident.

Directed by Alexander Payne…2011…115 min…featuring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Patricia Hastie, Beau Bridges.

The Hunter ***

A hunter comes to respect his prey when he is sent to Tasmania to bag what may be the last “Tasmanian Tiger.”

Directed by Daniel Nettheim…2011…102 min…featuring Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Morgana Davies, Frances O’Connor.

The Confession ***

A cold and calculating hit man coerces a priest into hearing a confession of his sins- and to answer questions about the nature of good and evil. The “evil” part is the majority of the conversation and that’s apt considering the man’s occupation. But there’s more to it than that as layers of evil get peeled back to reveal deeper layers yet.

Directed by Brad Mirman…2011…65 min…featuring John Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland.

Margin Call ***

Stock traders push way outside their limits of coverage and panic in the board room is the result.

Directed by JC Chandor…2011…107 min…featuring Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore.

The Grey ****

“The Grey” is certainly an action movie- Alaskan workers survive a plane crash in the wilderness only to be hunted by relentless, carnivorous wolves. But it is also full of an intense soul-searching that intensifies the drama. Who’s doing the soul-searching? Just about all of the guys in the movie are, most particularly actor Liam Neeson’s character, who takes charge on the outside, but is drowning with personal pain on the inside.

The soul-searching seems to be the point here too because the survival part of the movie boils down to taking full use of all of your resources- however limited they may be- and then hope for a lot of luck.

There are some very effective action scenes in “The Grey,” particularly the airplane crash sequence- it is terrifyingly disjointed. So is the fall of one of the characters through the trees. Some of the wolf attacks are also hair-raising, giving “The Grey” plenty of adrenalin.

The action, however, frames the soul-searching that ranges from the usual guy crying over his kids to a jerk who doesn’t know when to stop bedeviling the people around him. For Neeson’s guy, he’s so weepy in his thoughts about his late wife, yet aggressive indeed when dealing with an outside situation.

The wolves themselves appear only in flashes, or from a distance, indicating that they are perhaps more of a symbol than meant to reflect a realistic situation. There’s even a kind of supernatural power about the beasts- and they become a supreme test. How each man meets that test is the real meat of the story.

Directed by Joe Carnahan…2011…117 min…featuring Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale, Ben Bray, Anne Openshaw.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ***

Retirees facing various depressing scenarios in England bank on a senior resort in India that turns out to be significantly different than its image on the Internet and in the marketing material. It’s not all bad since the owner of the hotel- a young man with a lot to prove- is so accommodating, spinning a positive thread off of every problem the guests encounter. The colorful surroundings have their effect as well. Throw in a couple of love stories and you’ve got a charming diversion.

Directed by John Madden…2011…124 min…featuring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith,  Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel, Lena Desae, Lillete Dubey.

Skyfall ****

James Bond comes back battered and hurting.

Directed by Sam Mendes…2012…143 min…featuring Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw.

Argo ****

A dramatization of a joint effort between the United States and Canada to extract six American embassy workers who escaped being rounded up in the famous hostage crisis in Iran.

Directed by Ben Affleck…2012…120 min…featuring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin.

Moonrise Kingdom ***

A boy and a girl follow their fancy and set off to make a life for themselves in the wilderness of their home island, setting off confusion among the parents involved and the authorities.

Directed by Wes Anderson…2012…94 min…featuring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Wedward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban.